Here’s a secret: A lot of books by actors are not that good.
It’s not necessarily their fault — they’re just not trained for it. Most actors have better things to do with their time than perfecting a compelling prose style. Even those who write for a living, like comedians, are used to writing dialogue that comes to life when spoken; on the page, their jokes have a tendency to lie flat. (Incidentally, this is why you should almost always buy a comedian’s book as an audio book. Listening to Tina Fey say a joke is approximately 1,000 percent funnier than reading one of her jokes written down.)
So it’s a nice surprise that Broad City star Abbi Jacobson’s new illustrated book, Carry This Book, is so much fun — and that it’s clearly designed to be looked at, not to be read aloud.
Via Jacobson’s illustrations and captions, Carry This Book looks into the pockets and handbags of real and fictional people and imagines what they carry around with them. Donald Trump carries huge gloves (“for show”), five different varieties of self-tanner, and a note reminding himself to look up the words “civil rights” and “menstruation.” Batman carries his Justice League membership card and a dream journal. Oprah carries wads of cash, a gratitude journal, and a “daily surprise-someone-with-a-car-key.” And all of these accoutrements are pictured in Jacobson’s playful and colorful illustrations.
The book’s biggest strength is that Jacobson is working in her wheelhouse here. Back when Broad City was still a web series, Jacobson did freelance illustrating on the side and published two coloring books (Color This Book: New York City, and Color This Book: San Francisco). The lavish full-page spreads that make up Carry This Book follow in the tradition of those books, centering Jacobson’s work as an illustrator in service of her comedy, rather than vice versa. You don’t need to hear Jacobson reading Trump’s list of pocket mantras out loud to make the joke land: Seeing them written down does the work for you.
In Carry This Book, Jacobson’s art is warm, textured, and carefully composed, a little bit Maira Kalman and a little bit Roz Chast. It’s also genuinely funny, and funny in a specifically visual way. Saying, “I bet Homer Simpson carries, like, five donuts around with him at all times,” isn’t a very good joke, but when it’s expressed as a picture of colorful, luxurious piles of donuts around a torn to-do list from Marge, it is funny. It’s medium-first comedy.
Carry This Book has a conceit with just the right amount of quirk, and illustrations that have just the right amount of stylization. And it has escaped the trap of trying to force standup comedy onto the printed page: Its comedy serves its medium rather than the other way around.
Put simply: Carry This Book would be worthwhile even if the person who wrote it wasn’t famous for doing other things — which may just be the highest distinction a celebrity book can achieve.